Summer 1915, the French Riviera: Despite occasional evidence that the Great War rages on (that strung-up German effigy on the roadway), nothing can spoil the lazily peaceful mood. Into this sun-dappled Eden comes Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret), who has been recommended to the great painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet) as his latest model. She eases into the “Boss’s” routine, posing for him by day and leaving before his crippling nightly bouts with rheumatoid arthritis. But then Pierre-Auguste’s second son, Jean (Vincent Rottiers)—you may know him as the future director of a little film called The Rules of the Game (1939)—returns from the battlefield and complicates things by falling in love with Andrée.
It’s all true: Andrée would go on to marry Jean and star in several of his early movies under the name Catherine Hessling. But cowriter-director Gilles Bourdos unfortunately reduces these titanic historical figures to fit this soporific biopic’s cardboard melodramatics. Father and son glibly debate politics and art, Andrée throws several scenery-chewing temper tantrums, and a number of hindsight-20/20 exchanges (Jean is condescendingly told, “Cinema isn’t for the French”) pander to viewers who’d rather snootily giggle at the past than grapple with it. At least Mark Ping Bing Lee’s luscious cinematography distracts from the shallow storytelling. There are worse things than luxuriating in a two-hour Côte d’Azur travel ad.
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